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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 11:37 GMT
Aceh heralds Islamic law
Acehnese children pray together at Baiturrahim mosque in Banda Aceh, 13 March 2002
Men and women will have to dress modestly
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By Richard Galpin
BBC Jakarta correspondent
Thousands of people have attended a rally in the Indonesian province of Aceh to mark the formal implementation of strict Islamic or Sharia law.

It is part of the special autonomy deal granted by the central government to try to win over the local people and persuade them to drop their demands for the province to break away from Indonesia.

The long-running separatist conflict there is thought to have left 10,000 people dead.

A large but orderly crowd marched through the centre of the provincial capital to the main mosque for Friday prayers. There were calls for an end to the violence, which has dominated life in Aceh for almost 30 years.

But this was also a ceremony, heralding the beginning of Sharia law in the province, timed to coincide with celebrations marking the Islamic New Year.

'Little support'

From now on, both men and women will be expected to dress modestly, and refrain from immoral behaviour.

The local government says it plans to establish a special religious police force, recruiting more than 2,000 young men from Islamic schools and institutions to ensure Sharia law is enforced.

But it is unlikely that punishments imposed in other Islamic countries, such as amputation of hands and feet, or stoning to death, will ever be carried out in Aceh.

And it seems that, among the more educated groups within Acehnese society, there is little support for the whole plan.

One well-known academic told the BBC that people would oppose it if it led to interference in their personal lives. And besides, he said, many believed they were already following Sharia law.

It is also highly unlikely that granting the province the right to impose the law will have any impact on the continuing separatist conflict. The rebels and their supporters among the population will regard it as irrelevant.

See also:

04 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Islamic law for Aceh
21 Jun 00 | Africa
The many faces of Sharia
05 Sep 00 | Middle East
Warm welcome for 'Sharia swimsuit'
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